Do you feel like everybody has social media figured out while you struggle to catch up?
Rest assured: It looks like you’re in the majority.
A Ragan/NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions survey shows that few social media whiz-kids regard themselves as experts, and most in the field are still figuring it out.
[Download the complete survey’s findings here.]
Just 13 percent of communicators said their organization was “an advanced, well-run machine,” while nearly two-thirds said they have more to learn and accomplish.
More than half (64 percent) said they use social media regularly, but have more to learn and accomplish. Another 23 percent called themselves “newbies.”
“We're not even at the beginner stage,” a participant confessed.
“Unless you’re at a top-five consumer brand or agency,” wrote one another, “I don’t see how anyone can consider themselves advanced. It’s just growing too fast.”
The survey drew 2,714 total respondents from government agencies, nonprofits, and corporations with more than 50,000 employees.
The No. 1 goal was to increase brand awareness (87 percent), followed by increased Web traffic (62 percent) and improving reputation (61 percent).
The platform of choice? Facebook.
The finding that most are modest about their companies’ efforts doesn’t surprise industry experts interviewed by Ragan.com. But David B. Thomas, senior director of content and community at Salesforce Marketing Cloud, says communicators and others doing social media often underestimate themselves.
“Most people will tell me they’re far behind other people,” Thomas says, “and usually they’re not. Most people have an exaggerated sense of how advanced other people are.”
The most advanced companies—among them giants like Dell, Cisco, and HP—have social media training programs, governance bodies, managers, and certification programs, he says. Most, however, lag behind.
Adam Brown, principal of adMAGINATION, says the 13 percent figure is “a little low. There are some people doing some really progressive things.”
Even those who consider their organizations’ skills high described varying levels of mastery.
“Our corporate team is advanced with using social media,” wrote one respondent. “However, the regional team that I am a part of is at the beginner level, as we have limitations on how much we can use social media.”
How well do you keep up?
The survey may offer encouragement for those who feel they’re struggling to catch up. Though many don’t consider themselves advanced, nearly a third of respondents—30 percent—nevertheless agree that they “easily adapt to new tools and platforms.”
Others found the task harder, as new platforms are launched seemingly every week. Some 52 percent agreed that they “keep our heads above water, but not by much.” Another 18 percent confessed to being “overwhelmed.”
(In the comments, several participants said they fell between the top two categories on this question: not experts but not just treading water.)
“We don't have much need to experiment with new tools or platforms,” one commenter said. “However, if we notice something is being used by our target audience, we include it in our toolbox.”
One confident social media manager has no trouble staying on top of things.
“I use various online monitoring tools and I'm able to respond anywhere at any time,” the respondent wrote. “There are two back-up people at our company who take care of this when I am unavailable, i.e. vacation.”
If it’s any comfort to the newbies, even the experts admit to gaps in their social media presence.
Wrote one: “We are the classic case of the cobbler’s children having no shoes. Despite being a full service communications firm, we are so busy, focused on our client's campaigns, we are still trying to create sustained momentum in our own social media space. We're getting better (created some new internal staff architecture to help it along), but our implementation has yet to catch up to our strategic and tactical skill levels.”
Top goal: Increase brand awareness
Asked about their goals in social media, 87 percent said to increase brand awareness. Sixty-two percent sought to boost Web traffic, and 61 percent were out to improve the organization’s reputation.
“We really look at social media as a way to show the personality of our firm,” wrote one participant. “We also look at it as a way to share our expertise and thought leadership in the industry, which in turn, we hope, will increase leads and potentially sales.”
A number seemed eager and excited about the possibilities of social media. One respondent vowed to “break the mold for our industry, do things no one else in our field (veterinary medicine) has even attempted.”
But others are unconvinced. Among some, it was the social media users themselves who had questions about their channels and the time spent creating content for them.
“We can do more than we do,” one wrote. “The question remains whether SM is a bit of a black hole that will suck up any and all resources you choose to send its way, with arguably questionable [return on investment].”
Several respondents in sensitive industries must keep glancing over their shoulders at Big Brother. “We're in a highly regulated environment, and social media makes our legal and regulatory teams skittish,” wrote one.
And stop us if you’ve heard this one: Some still haven’t overcome internal roadblocks to producing content.
“It's not just the communications staff who need to learn,” wrote one commenter, who is doubtless bald from tearing out tufts of hair. “We have a hard time getting other departments to regularly let us know about news and events that would be appropriate for sharing via social media.”
Choose your weapon
Facebook is by far the most popular platform, with 91 percent of respondents maintaining a page there. Twitter follows closely, with 88 percent, while 73 percent post videos on YouTube and 69 percent use LinkedIn. At the bottom of the list are Instagram (just under 17) and Tumblr (9 percent).
Many commenters mentioned social media that weren’t on our multiple-choice list. Foremost among these were Vimeo and WordPress blogs. Others swore by redditt, Storify, StumbleUpon, Digg, and Picasa.
International social media earned mentions in our online survey. One respondent touted the Russian websites Odnoklassniki, Mail.ru, and VKontakte. And let us not forget China: Sina Weibo, Renren, and Youku won endorsements.
There are platforms that haven’t been permitted by certain companies. Writes one survey participant: “We want to use Pinterest, but our legal department won't clear it.”
“We stick to FB, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube,” wrote another respondent. “Given the nearly endless possibilities contrasted against finite resources, you have to make choices.”
Adds another, “Some experimentation with Google+. We are also actively monitoring mentions on Instagram and have claimed a venue in Foursquare.”
The survey’s findings square with what Shel Holtz, of Holtz Communication + Technology, has observed. Numerous platforms have evolved, but a few are dominant among communicators, he says. In addition to the familiar Facebook and Twitter, he sees Pinterest and Instagram as growing.
“Forty percent of the global 100 brands have Instagram accounts and are sending out images to influence perception,” he says.
He adds that organizations “are nuts if they don’t have a Google+ page, but that’s really just because Google’s gaming the system.” Those who have a page place higher in search results, he says.
At Southwest Airlines, Twitter and Facebook are major efforts, says Christi McNeill, senior communications specialist, but there is also an expectation to be exploring new channels. Southwest has a presence on Instagram and Pinterest as well.
But others are crying, “Enough!” Wrote one: “Too many new tools. We'll stick with the basics and the ones that have been around and suit our needs. Keep it simple.”
Holtz finds it shortsighted when communicators tell him, “I’m already doing Facebook and Twitter, I don’t have time to add Pinterest to it.”
“If you want to go where your customers are,” he explains, “or if using it is going to help you achieve your organizational goal in a big way, it’s not very strategic to say I don’t have the time. You need to go out and make the business case that ‘we need the resources to do this.’ Because otherwise you’re leaving profits on the table.”
Frequency of posts
A majority (58 percent) post at least daily, although half of those don’t post on weekends. About 22 percent posted two or three times a week, with the remainder less frequently.
“It depends on the format,” one college-based respondent answered. “Twitter is daily, including weekends. Facebook is less frequent, most focusing on events and undergraduate events. YouTube depends entirely on whether we have time and hands to do video. LinkedIn is ongoing, more of a resource for our alumni to interact with each other, than active tool for us to post information at this point.”
“We try for more than once a day, but we have weeks full of updates and slow weeks of three to five updates in a week,” wrote one.
Several commenters also referred to times of year when many comments go up, such as during the academic year or legislative sessions. One agency respondent wrote, “For clients, daily; for ourselves, once a week.”
Types of content
So you’ve got a social media presence. Well and good. But what are you posting, and what are you linking to? Content, in other words.
Facebook posts lead, with 86 percent of respondents using the medium. Tweets lag by only a single percentage point. Some 64 percent create videos; one honest survey participant fessed up to producing “really bad videos.”
Sixty-one percent write blogs, and another 51 percent draft online articles. Only a sliver—3 percent—don’t create any content at all.
Others produce video content about clinical trials, training manuals, and comics and cartoons. A respondent wrote that Facebook posts and tweets are created by a social media blogger paid through an agency.
One frustrated communicator wrote, “Would like to do all of the above. However, management does not want to allow communication/posts from visitors.”
[Download the complete survey’s findings here.]
Russell Working is a staff writer for Ragan.com.